A portrait of the artist as a young transplant

‘The Norwegians’ presents fresh spin on stereotypical jokes

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Brian Miller

More than a lot of other locales, Boulder is peopled by transplants. Almost everyone you meet is from somewhere else. In all my years living in our fair city, I’d estimate only a miniscule percentage of the people I’ve known were actually from here. Maybe it’s a byproduct of our proximity to Denver, the old Crossroads of the West, or maybe it’s just the increased transience offered by a well-developed highway system and inexpensive (well, relatively inexpensive) air travel, but finding a native Boulderite is on par with striking a vein of Unobtanium.

Playwright C. Denby Swanson’s status as a transplant informs every moment of her dark comedy, The Norwegians. Swanson first lived in Texas and later moved to Minnesota. Her dramatic simulacrum is Olive (Rachel Ricca), a recent transplant from the Lone Star State to the North Star State. Olive not only struggles with the climatic and cultural differences between the land of steer horn-studded Cadillacs and the Land of 1,000 Lakes, but her boyfriend also recently dumped her, and she’s not taking it at all well.

In a dark, divey bar, Olive meets fellow transplant Betty (Anna Hershey). Betty hails from Kentucky but has lived in Minnesota long enough to act as a Sacagawea of sorts, and she, too, has recently suffered a bad breakup. As the ladies commiserate, the bar becomes an echo chamber for their self-pity and spite for their exes. Soon, Olive gives in to the dark side and declares that she wants to have hers killed. Surprisingly, Betty not only gets behind the notion, but she just happens to know some guys who might be able to do the job.

The hitmen, or “hitpeople” as they are dubbed in a moment of winkingly misplaced political correctness, are Gus (Tommy Plunkett) and Tor (Artemus Martin). They are Minnesotans through and through, and both come from Norwegian stock. While Gus is of mixed ancestry, Tor is 100 percent Norwegian and exhibits that rare level of cultural pride that manifests in his belief that everything — from the night sky to the Kama Sutra — is of Norwegian origin.

The vast majority of the humor in The Norwegians derives from stereotypes. Texas tropes are trotted out in the form of exaggerated accents, unbearable heat, cowboy culture and the ever-present threat of secession. In one of the play’s best moments, Betty notes that if Texas ever really did try to secede, no one would stop them.

Minnesota clichés get the same treatment. The winters are brutal and endless, with short days and interminable nights. During the 10 minutes of summer, the mosquitoes are the size of Volkswagens. The locals are all “Minnesota nice.” And much of the population counts Norway its ancestral home, which leads to a litany of Norwegian shibboleths like homemade elderberry wine, gravlax, lutefisk, pervasive Lutheranism and preternatural politeness.

If you liked Fargo — either the movie or television series — or simply have a hankering for some Minnesota-, Texas- or man-bashing, The Norwegians is the play for you. It will help if you were also a fan of Twin Peaks or Lynch’s other lighter work, because the second act embraces a certain surreality exemplified by a dreamlike stripper two-step interlude and an oddly protracted episode of purse-rummaging.

Director Madge Montgomery’s love of the material comes through louder than a cowbell, and the cast are all game. Martin and Hershey, in particular, appear to relish their roles. Martin’s Tor is easily the funniest character on display, and he manages to maintain his “Oh yah” Minnesota accent nearly the entire time. Whether Swanson has succeeded in crafting a true neo-noir is debatable (I’d be willing to give her “noir-ish” with Montgomery’s musical choices carrying much of the load), but Hershey satisfyingly finds the femme fatale in Betty. She’s all brassy confidence with just the right undercurrent of restrained menace.

As usual, the small but strong Theater Company of Lafayette delivers an exemplary production. Few companies of its size would even consider performing a lesser-known, edgier play like The Norwegians, and but this little company that could continues to bring daring shows to Boulder County.

ON THE BILL: The Norwegians, Theater Company of Lafayette, 300 E. Simpson St., Lafayette, www.tclstage.org. Through May 23.